Barzani says ready for dialogue with Turkey

ANKARA (AFP) — The president of Iraqi Kurdistan called on Turkey for face-to-face talks to end high-running tensions over Turkish Kurd rebels based in his autonomous region in northern Iraq, in a television interview broadcast here Monday. His appeal coincides with remarks by Turkish officials that they are ready to meet Iraqi Kurdish leaders to discuss the problem, contrary to earlier threats by Ankara of a cross-border military operation to crack down on the rebels.

“Dialogue is the best way to resolve problems and misunderstandings,” Massoud Barzani told Turkey’s NTV news channel.

“We must talk face-to-face to understand each other’s position. This will be followed by (discussions on) what should be done and necessary actions.

“We are extending to Turkey a hand of friendship. We will be pleased if Turkey responds in kind,” he said.

Ankara has grown increasingly impatient with US and Iraqi reluctance to move against the Kurdish Labour Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody separatist campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey since 1984.

Thousands of members of the group, listed as a terrorist organisation by both Ankara and Washington, among others, have taken refuge in the mountains of northern Iraq.

Earlier this month, army chief General Yasar Buyukanit accused Iraqi Kurds of “fully” supporting the PKK and providing it with explosives for bomb attacks in Turkey.

He also objected to dialogue with them, but both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the government would be open to talks.

On Friday, the National Security Council, which groups Turkey’s top civilian and military leaders, also put the emphasis on “diplomatic efforts” to resolve the row.

Barzani denied that Iraqi Kurds supported the PKK and said he was “pleased” that Ankara was considering dialogue.

He stressed, however, that Iraqi Kurds should not be expected to fight fellow Kurds and urged Ankara for political measures to curb the PKK.

“We will do our best if we are asked to help in such a process as friends,” he said.

Washington has also warned Ankara against a cross-border operation, wary that it may destabilise the relatively peaceful north of conflict-torn Iraq and fuel tensions between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, a staunch US ally.

Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds are also at loggerheads over the future of the ethnically volatile, oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The Kurds want to incorporate it into their autonomous region although the city is also home to Arabs and Turkish-backed Turkmens.

Despite his messages of goodwill, Barzani was adamant on Kirkuk.

He described the city as “the heart of Kurdistan” and dismissed Turkish calls for a postponement of a referendum on its status, scheduled to be held by the year-end.

He also rejected Ankara’s accusations that tens of thousands of Kurds had been moved into Kirkuk to change its demography in their favour ahead of the vote.

Ankara is worried that Kurdish control of Kirkuk’s oil reserves will boost what it sees as Kurdish aspirations to break away from Baghdad.

Kurdish independence, it fears, could fuel the PKK’s insurgency in adjoining southeast Turkey, which has already resulted in more than 37,000 deaths.

Barzani said his region “will continue to be a part of Iraq as long as Iraq preserves its federal democratic structure,” but insisted that independence was “the most natural right” of the Kurds, who also live in Syria and Iran.

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